Help with Pork Belly
I am wondering if it is possible to slowly braise a pork belly so that the meat is meltingly soft, yet still somehow get a nice crackling skin.
My usual braising method which works very well with spareribs and other pork roasts is to put the meat in a baking dish with some braising liquid and cover first with plastic wrap and then foil, which keeps the moisture sealed in nicely and then roast on a very low setting for hours and hours. After braising I usually crisp my pork ribs on the barbecue and glaze with some sauce. I wonder if this method will work with Pork belly to get that nice crisp skin I desire.
Most of the recipes I've seen for crispy pork belly involve roasting uncovered on a rack. Im sure this gets a great skin, but im not sure the meat will be falling apart like I want it to.
I never braise it, and I put it into a dry roasting dish. The only liquid addition being a table spoon or two of sesame oil. I dont put it on a rack either. If it is really fatty, I sometimes need to drain some of the fat off once or twice during the cooking time.
The good thing about putting a bit of five spice powder on the skin is that it gives an extra flavour to the crackling, but it's not "in your face" Chinese - it can be served with anything, not just Chinese style veg etc (although the Pak Choi I mentioned above really is good because it cuts through the richness of the pork).
I'm lucky to get really good quality pork from our farmer's market, so the flavour is always great. If you can get some good and fatty rare breed pork you are most of the way there.
I like to braise pork belly in some liquid and flavoring...star anise, ginger, garlic, sugar, soy, etc for a chinese flavor; thyme, bay, peppercorn, etc for more traditional. I add just enough liquid to come up to about a 1/3 of the pork. I think braising any meat with too much liquid gives the meat a washed out taste. I add a little more hot liquid as I need it and turn the meat occasionally. I use a heavy pot such as a Le Creuset with a cover, 250 degree F until it is meltingly tender. I also do a whole pork shoulder or pork butt this way. Pork belly and pork butt might take 3 hours, a shoulder might take 6. Remove the meat and and refrigerate the liquid to skim off the fat and serve with some of the juice. Better the next day.
To crisp the skin for pork belly: remove the cooked pork from the liquid. Dry it out in the frig for a few hours without cover. Heat a cast iron pan until hot and place the pork skin side down. I turn down the heat to medium low and let it slowly render the fat from the skin. By that time, the whole piece will be warmed through. You can probably do it on the grill but I would do it over a very very low fire.
I too am in search of the elusive pork belly with melt away fat and crispy crackling.
The first thing that would make a difference is whether your piece of belly has the skin on, or not.
To date, I've done several permutations of belly, always skinless, and based on Japanese buta kakuni. (Lit: pork squares simmered)
Google for: pork belly buta kakuni. Most of those recipes will go no further than a few hours simmer. This has been sufficient for me up to now, but next time I'll try, with both skin-on and skinless side by side for comparison:
2) drying overnite in fridge
3) then baking at 300 degrees or so for crisping.
Many restaurants in Japan take 2 days to make the dish, with simmering/cooling/drying/roasting steps involved. Some even go so far as to submerge in Dry rice bran overnite for deep internal dessication.
When done by practiced pros, it is the Nectar of the Goddess of Pork.
How melting it becomes depends on how much fat there is - the fattier it is, the softer the result. I roast mine on a lowish heat (gas mark 3 - if that means nothing to you, you can find out what that means in centigrade or farenheight by Googling it...) for about three hours. If you have a fatty piece of belly, this has the advantage of the fat slowly melting through the meat - I think this is what makes it soft. To get good crackling (and this is the best I have ever tasted), make sure that the rind is dry - and leave the meat in the fridge uncovered for a few hours if possible - and then sprinkle it with salt and five spice powder before putting it in the oven. I also add a bit of sesame oil. If the rind isn't crispy after three hours, then just give it a bit longer, possibly turning up the heat. Beware of cranking the temperature up too much though, as I find that blasting the rind in oven or under the grill can make it blister too much and it becomes quite tasteless.
I serve it with pak choi (with a bit of chilli, soy, oyster sauce and lime) and noodles. Delicious...